Development

The Art of Stealing a base

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The amateur baseball world does not talk much about stealing bases. But it can be a huge weapon for you as a player looking to advance your career, and a huge weapon to have as part of your team. If you are relying solely on speed and athleticism to steal bases, you will eventually run into a level of competition that will humble your base stealing ability. Let’s discuss the different qualities that great base stealers have, and why everyone has it in them to become a base stealer.

 

Speed

 Everyone assumes that speed is the only component of stealing bases. And although I agree that it’s a major component, I would strongly disagree that it’s required. I led my college team in stolen bases 3 out of the 4 years I played. The only year I didn’t, was the year I broke my foot and was out for half the season. Even then I finished second on the team. But I wasn’t the fastest on the team any of these years. So why did I steal more bases than the guys on my team with more speed…

 

Mindset

Mindset is the most important part of stealing bases. If you don’t have an aggressive mindset on the bases you will never be a great base stealer. Most players never get good at the art of stealing bases because they’re scared to get thrown out, picked off, or look stupid. You have to have no fear. Honestly, the best way to face fear is to get thrown out. Here’s a story of what changed my college career in terms of stealing bases:

 

When I was a freshman in college, I had a coach who had just finished his senior year of college baseball and was helping coach our team. He had the school record for stolen bases in a season with 51 in a mere 38 games. Although I wasn’t the fastest on the team, I had enough speed to know that learning from this coach could be a huge advantage for me moving forward. I picked his brain constantly on the art of stealing bases. It was our first intersquad in the fall of my freshman year. I get on base for the first time and the coach gives me the green light to steal. I was scared, and on the first pitch I didn’t steal. I hear the coach say, “Get me another base runner!” I run off the field and into the dugout. The coach came over to me and said the words that changed my career forever. “If you don’t steal first pitch every time this fall, I’m gonna take you out and make you run sprints for the rest of the game.”

 

So what did I do? I stole first pitch every time for the whole fall season. At first I was getting thrown out more often than not. But I learned. I learned what it took for me to be safe. I learned what I did wrong when I got thrown out. He had instilled an aggressive mindset in me that would exist from then on. By the time the season started, I HAD NO FEAR. I didn’t care if I got thrown out. I wasn’t worried about getting picked off. Because I knew. I knew I could steal any base I wanted. If I was going to get thrown out, its because the other team did everything right. I was putting the pressure on them, not the other way around.

 

My story is a great example of how simply changing your mindset can help you elevate your ability to steal bases. Learn to be aggressive and have no fear. It’s the biggest indicator of whether or not a player will be good at stealing bases. If you have no fear, you will get good jumps, and your success rate will be extremely high.

 

The Jump

 I always knew within my first 3 steps if I was going to be safe or out. I knew the jump I needed to be safe and I knew if I didn’t get that jump, I was probably out. The jump is a crucial part of stealing bases, and learning that skill is all about experience. You need to take that aggressive mindset that I talked about earlier and let it to translate into a good jump. This takes practice. Try this drill:

 

Have one of your teammates that’s a pitcher stay after practice with you. Have him get on the mound or at a distance that’s equal to a game situation. Work on stealing bases off him. Ask him to mix in pick offs, slide steps, balk moves, etc. Anything he would do if Ricky Henderson was on base and he was trying to keep him from stealing. Your job is to get a good jump and steal the base. Be aggressive. Get as good of a jump as you can focusing on just your first 3 steps. Don’t be afraid to get picked off or make mistakes. Just learn from them and let them to teach you what it’s going to take to steal that base.

 

Where to focus

There’s a couple different ways to approach getting a good jump. The first is to study the pitcher and understand what his first movement is. Some common first movements include front heel, front knee, lean, reverse lean, and front shoulder. If the pitcher has an obvious first movement you can “hard focus” on that body part and react to its movement in order to get your jump. This is the way most people have been taught and lots of base stealers have had success with it.

The second approach is a little uncommon, but can be extremely effective if you master it. It’s to “soft focus” on the pitcher. Your seeing the whole picture including the background and just letting your eyes relax. Your almost letting the pitcher blur out while focusing on the background. From here, you can react to the pitchers movement either towards the plate, or a pick to your base. You would be surprised at how quickly your body can react to movement when soft focusing on a target. I found this tactic to be highly effective on pitchers with good balk moves because it allows you to get a good jump without getting fooled and picked off.

Try experimenting with both of these tactics and see which one works well for you. Again, it all comes down to practice and getting comfortable with your technique.

 

Footwork

The last step to becoming an effective base stealer is footwork. Footwork is extremely important and can really give you a competitive advantage if done right. The most effective style of footwork, and the one most commonly used by the best in the game, is the drop step. The reason the drop step is so effective is because it allows you to open your hips while also creating a good shin angle in the direction you’re running. Although it seems like a negative step to some coaches, it actually allows you to set up a more explosive first step, which will allow you to gain more distance in a positive direction. Watch the footwork of the best base stealers in the game. Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, and the best of the best, Ricky Henderson all drop step.

 

Why anyone can do it with the right Mindset

There’s no doubt that stealing bases on a consistent level is an art that needs to be practiced like any other skill. It starts with an aggressive mindset and developing a no fear mentality. If you can develop this skill and hone the techniques discussed above, you can be an effective base stealer. And if you have any sort of speed, you can go from non-threat, to elite status in a short period of time. The question is, are you scared, or fearless?

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About Brian Hamm

My name is Brian Hamm and I am all about "Baseball Development". Through my journey as a high school and college player, I always felt that a competitive advantage eluded me. I constantly researched and discovered new resources, ideas, and theories that have shaped how I coach today. It’s my goal to work relentlessly in order to give my players, clients, and coaches the biggest competitive advantage that will allow them to reach their full potential. My mission is to spread my knowledge to baseball players around the world and help change the developmental process forever.

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